Australian Government releases report on driverless vehicles
After more than eight months of public hearings, written submissions, and inspections, the Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources has tabled its report on the social aspects of the introduction of driverless cars in Australia.
The report is titled ‘Social issues relating to land-based automated vehicles in Australia‘, the result of an inquiry instigated by the Hon Darren Chester, Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.
In a sign of increasing engagement by the Federal Government with the opportunities and risks presented by new technology, a parliamentary committee recently inquired into social issues that might accompany the introduction of automated vehicles in Australia.
This was echoed in a comment last year by the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, the Minister for Urban Infrastructure, in a 2016 blog entry:
“As governments determine transport policy nationally and in our big cities, we need to respond to these trends in technology – while recognising that much remains uncertain about how these trends will play out.”
Benefits, impacts, and concerns
The inquiry, which received 47 written submissions and testimony from over 30 witnesses, explored the benefits that are expected to flow from the evolving technologies, the impacts they may have, and the concerns that the community currently hold.
The findings can be summarised by the following:
- Reduced road accidents
- Increased mobility especially for disadvantaged groups
- On public transport
- Changing models of vehicle ownership and usage
- Need for national consistency and promotion of community dialogue
- Lack of clarity about liability and responsibility when things go wrong
- Prospective loss of employment opportunities for drivers, offset to some extent by unmet demand for people skilled in the new technologies
It has been pleasing to see this report, and its subject matter, receive bipartisan support. Anthony Albanese, the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, had this to say:
“The transition to driverless cars and heavy vehicles in Australia will take years, but it is critical that governments start planning now so that we can maximise the benefits while mitigating any negative effects.”
“It’s important that all levels of government, along with employers, trade unions and other interested groups, work in a spirit of bipartisanship to make change a positive force for our country.”
“One of our key concerns must be lifting investment in education and training to ensure that as driverless cars eliminate jobs performed by people, the workers are given skills to allow them to move to other jobs.”
Community is crucial
iMOVE CRC welcomes the inquiry and its report. Like many submissions, we contend that community engagement and confidence are crucial elements for the introduction of new technology. Therefore, for Australia to gain early access to the benefits of the new technology it must cultivate community discussion and proactively address community concerns.
Technology trials and public involvement
In this context it was pleasing to see the committee’s support for trials of automated vehicles that would both test and confirm the suitability of the technology to the local situation, and provide some access for the public to experience it.
This thinking was further extended in the inquiry’s recommendation #7 (see the full list of the Committee’s recommendations below) which specifically proposed to trial automated vehicles in public transport applications in both metropolitan and regional locations.
With an eye to the future effectiveness of the Australian economy, the inquiry also made several recommendations to proactively secure benefits from the new technology.
Recommendation #9 seeks to ensure that the benefits of automated vehicles are available across Australia, including regional Australia.
Recommendation #5 encouraged development of a strategy to ensure that Australia is best placed to exploit emerging opportunities.
iMOVE CRC’s interest and expertise
Being an organisation established to do industrially-relevant research, iMOVE CRC is particularly interested in the issues that the inquiry recommends be attended to. These include:
- Addressing potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities
- Developing ownership, use and security frameworks for automated vehicle data
- Exploration of how automated vehicles could meet needs of people with disabilities, older Australians and those in regional and rural areas.
- National consistency in relation to automated vehicles for road infrastructure (e.g. signs and markings), regulations and policy settings.
- Clarifying legal liability and insurance implications
Safety and productivity … now
iMOVE CRC is keen to work with its participants and industry stakeholders to ensure that these issues are addressed. We see many benefits arising from highly automated vehicles and believe we should encourage their adoption as quickly as is reasonably possible.
At the top of the list are safety and productivity. Accidents and time spent manually driving vehicles place huge burdens on our standard of living and the economy. Automated vehicles will not be a silver bullet to solve these issues, but they will usher in new systems and processes that are intrinsically safer, more reliable, and productive.
These systems will lower costs, improve accessibility and improve the lifestyle of all who use them. We should not only welcome automated vehicles with open arms but should actively seek to deploy them wherever possible.
The Committee’s recommendations
The 10 recommendations of the report are as follows:
- That the Commonwealth adopt as standard terminology the use of ‘automated vehicles’ and formally accept that the standard definition for the automation level of vehicles is that used by the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) International Standard J3016. The Committee recommends that the use of ‘driverless car/vehicle’ and ‘autonomous vehicle’ be discontinued.
- That, noting the range of benefits automated vehicles are likely to bring and the need for public acceptance of the technology, the Commonwealth Government facilitate and encourage trials of automated vehicles in Australia, with a particular focus on trials that enable members of the public to experience automated vehicles on public roads.
- That the National Cyber Security Strategy specifically investigate automated vehicles (and associated transport systems) to address potential vulnerabilities relating to automation.
- The Commonwealth Government further investigates the issue of data rights for consumers, vehicle manufacturers and third parties such as insurers and relevant government agencies.
- The Commonwealth Government establish a working party with industry and academic stakeholders to identify industry needs regarding the development of automated vehicles and support services, and implement a strategy to ensure that Australia is best placed to exploit emerging opportunities.
- That the Commonwealth Government’s preparation for autonomous vehicles includes consideration of how the needs of people with disability, older Australians and those in regional and rural areas can be met via automated vehicles.
- That the Commonwealth Government, in association with state and territory governments and local councils, consider funding of trials of automated vehicles with a public transport application, in both metropolitan areas and regional locations.
- That the Commonwealth Government, in consultation with state and territory governments, continues to coordinate their approach to automated vehicles, ensuring consistent regulations and policy settings.
- That the Commonwealth Government coordinates efforts to standardise road infrastructure in Australia, particularly as it relates to signs and road markings, and that the Commonwealth Government considers ways to ensure that the benefits of automated vehicles are available across Australia, including in regional Australia.
- That the Commonwealth Government consider the merits of establishing either a dedicated national body or a cross-agency taskforce, in conjunction with state and territory jurisdictions and working with vehicle and software manufacturers, to coordinate Australia’s preparation for the introduction of land-based automated vehicles.
Download the report
Click the button below to download a full copy of the ‘Social issues relating to land-based automated vehicles in Australia’ report.